Monday, May 10, 2010

4 corners pics

I've posted some pics on Facebook, but wanted to post some here as well! Enjoy! It was a beautiful adventure and one I'd highly recommend.

4 Corners 5/10/10 5:31 PM

Friday, May 7, 2010

Canyon de Chelly- last day

We woke early again for our guided hike at 8 am. I may have mentioned, but with the exception of the White House Ruin trail, you can only enter the canyon with a guide. We learned that the reason is mostly because the canyon is all private land so you need to know where to go. We were supposed to go with Ben, Adam’s father from the tour yesterday, however, Harris was there instead. He’s a cousin of Adam’s, with a grandmother in common.

Harris is around 35 years old and lived in the canyon with his grandparents until the age of 16. He is one of eight children, 7 boys and the youngest is a girl. He dropped out of school at 16 to leave the reservation to find work to support his grandparents that raised him. He lived outside for 9 years in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Amarillo Texas and in Oregon among other places, then moved home. He then married, and has two boys ages 2 and 4. He lives on his grandmother’s land as his wife’s family lost their land a couple of generations ago, in a card game.

We did the Twin Trails hike on the North Rim of Canyon del Muerto, the northern canyon. It was fairly steep going down, a little more than the hike yesterday, and absolutely beautiful. Off in the distance we could see his grandmother’s land where their summer home is. On the land is a large orchard with apple and peach trees, as well as others. He still plants them and harvests them for his grandmother every year, in order to preserve the old ways.

His mother’s family is Christian, however his grandparents and he were raised in the traditional Navajo way. Harris is a storyteller, and it’s important to him that people know where they came from and their history. He picks plants that his grandmother will use for dyes. His grandparents are 102 (though it is believed that his grandfather is older than his birth certificate, which was an estimate) and his grandmother is 94. As we climbed down into the canyon Harris told us that he climbed the same path every day as a child to go to school. A bus picked him up at the top. He said when he was only a few months old, he was rolled without clothes in the snow. The Navajo do this to strengthen their children. His grandmother would insist that he be strong against the elements, and run in the summer when it hit 100 and go outside to herd sheep in the winter when there was snow on the ground in just a sweater.

His uncle is a medicine man. He explained that there are four kinds. I forget two, but his uncle is two kinds- a stargazer, who uses crystals for their vision, and an ash (something!) that uses the burned pine trees to spread the ask for their visions. He was raised with both Navajo healing and traditional medicine, and uses both as needed.

The Navajo people voted several years ago for the elderly to get a government benefit. However, he told us that many of the young collect as well, instead of working. They wait for their checks twice a month which only total a couple hundred dollars. He believes that many are lazy, and don’t work and feels that it’s largely because they have strayed from the traditional ways. He takes it as his job to teach those who are willing to listen many of the stories and the lessons he learned from his grandmother.
We saw two petroglyphs of coiled snakes, which are a warning symbol. Harris told us about the history as well, which a slightly different slant than we had heard before. I asked him about the word Anasazi, as he used it frequently and mentioned that in Mesa Verde we heard it was being replaced by ‘Ancestral Puebloan’ as Anasazi was deemed to be negative and inappropriate. We had been told the Navajo wanted the change. He laughed and said no, that Anasazi is what the Navajo call the ancient people who lived in this area before them. They were believed to have been from South America and related to the Mayan, Incan and Toltec people. He suggested that the Park Service was dictating the change, and not his people.

We got to the base of the canyon and saw two sets of ruins. In one you could see that much of the cave roof fell, and he told us that the US brought cannons into the canyons and were seeking to destroy the ruins, thinking that the natives lived there. It was really so beautiful there, and though it was a really cold morning, it started warming up beautifully with a nice light breeze flowing through. As we started to climb it got warmer, but was still quite nice for hiking.

We got around halfway up and stopped for a rest and to talk. Harris told us that four of his uncles were Code Talkers though two died during the war. He also told us a few other stories about his family. One was that his great-great-great-great grandmother was kidnapped by the Spanish and held for several years. She had two children with a Spanish soldier, when she escaped barefoot in the winter. She was pregnant when she left, and arrived a couple of months later to the canyon and her family. She had the baby which was Harris’ great-great-great-grandmother. Navajo don’t have facial hair, however, Harris does. He explained that it’s because he does have some Spanish lineage, and said that while many people say they are full-blooded Navajo, he usually doesn’t believe it. When the Spanish invaded the area they raped many of the women, so there is mixed blood.

I asked how the Navajo feel about mixed marriages. He said those raised in the traditional ways usually try to marry within their kind, though not within their clan. On the Christian side of his family, it is very mixed. He said the Navajo still consider them ‘brothers and sisters’ and all are accepted, regardless.

Harris told us that the Navajo and Hopi were contemporaries, and lived in peace (though there are land disputes today.) The Navajo only fought for protection, and it was only the Ute people that sometimes tried to raid. Typically they stayed in CO and UT though. He said that the Navajo knew their priorities, in taking care of and protecting their people. While others are different, their strength was in their unity among the tribe.

When we were close to three quarters of the way up, we saw five horses descending the path. Quite impressive given how steep it is! The guide is his sister-in-law and she had four in her party. They walked their horses down the incline, then were riding a good distance in the canyon to the Mummy Cave and the White House. We saw a rock that had carvings in it from 1959 and 1972. One was from his grandfather, who helped survey they land.

We got to the top and Harris told us stories about herding sheep as a kid and walking them up and down the same path we just took. There was a pond at the top, which is long since dry. He then took us to meet his grandparents, which was a really wonderful experience. He showed us where he lived, and has several horses and sheep. There were more, though no one wanted to herd them any longer. He had several dogs as well. There were four small houses in the immediate area, his, his grandparent’s, a new one he is building for his grandmother, and his auntie’s house. There were probably a dozen nearby, also belonging to family.

His grandmother was absolutely beautiful and waved a greeting. They only speak the Navajo language, so Harris greeted them. His grandfather, at least 102, was napping when we entered but woke up and waved a greeting with a smile. The home had a lot of pictures up of the family, and a stunning one that has won awards of his grandparents in the canyon before the first ruin. It was sepia and taken a couple of years ago. They had a wood stove, a very basic minimal kitchen, and a little storage area.
The homes were all very utilitarian and had the basics. Nothing is done for beautification, and if windows are broken they are patched or boarded. So are walls, so they end up a mix of different materials of wood and metal. The floor was partly linoleum, rug and wood. While some of the homes are nicer, this seems pretty typical of most. His grandmother had a beautiful and ornate jewelry designed of turquoise. Life is hard, but good.

The land is all his grandmother’s, however, she has already signed it over to her oldest daughter. With each generation the land is divided further, however, the family remains in ownership. He said everyone gets some, so there is no reason for land disputes as all will be taken care of. His grandmother had 7 or so children, and he said his family is over 300 people in total!
We thanked them for welcoming us into their house through Harris, then said our goodbyes. He wishes us a wonderful time in the Navajo reservation, and that we should return sometime. There was no mistaking Harris’ house with toys and bikes in the front! I think Harris will do well—he’s hardworking, smart and passionate about his beliefs and history. He shared with us that they were having a family meal tomorrow night for mother’s day, where they would slaughter a sheep. He was responsible for the butchering, so he hoped he remembered what he needed to do from the year before!

We drove off to explore the north rim a bit, and stopped at Mummy Cave Ruin where several mummies were found. It’s believed to be the longest-inhabited place in the Canyon and one of the largest in the area. It was occupied to around 1300 and includes a tower complex believed to have been built by the people who migrated from Mesa Verde in 1280 as it is similar to the design of the ruins found there.

We then visited Massacre Cave. In the winter of 1805 a Spanish military expedition led by Antonio Narbona killed over 100 Navajo who took shelter on the ledge. Shots fired from the rim killed all. The Spanish account was that there were over 90 warriors and 25 women and children, however, the Navajo account states that most of the men were away hunting, so almost all were women, children and the elderly. The overlook is also called Two Fell Overlook as it is said that a brave Navajo woman fell over with a Spanish soldier when trying to defend her people.

We drove back to the RV to make lunch. We saw Howard, who told us Boy was out on a tour of the path and the ruin with a German couple. Sonnie was excited to see us and tried his hardest to steal my lunch again. Little bugger!

I forgot to mention that Harris recommended two authors who have written very authentic accounts of the Navajo working with the tribe for accuracy: Tony Hillerman wrote a bunch of mystery novels, and there's a book called Blood and Sand (forget the author) that is very accurate, in case you want to know more.

Lazy last afternoob here, reading a book, enjoying the sun on short walks. A new family moved in nearby with a kid with a 'radio voice'. He's cute though, so I'll forgive the volume! They went for a walk and Boy trotted on after them after a quick visit with me to escort them. He's a very busy dog! We hit the road tomorrow, so this adventure is coming to an end. It's been a lot of fun! Back in Kanab UT for a little bit to spend time with mom before heading out. So, signing off until the next adventure!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Canyon de Chelly- day 2

So, the day yesterday didn’t end when I said it did. Dad and I decided to check out the walk on the property that leads to the canyon. We leashed up Sonnie, and of we went, accompanied by boy, the dog who lives on the property. Boy was a bit skittish with Sonnie and stayed either a bit ahead, leading the way, or following right behind us. Occasionally he ran off in the woods but never far. Sonnie didn’t appreciate when he was ahead, and just picture an 85 year old man wagging his finger at the ‘young whipper snapper’ and you get the picture. He pulled like all hell to catch up to Boy, and kept trying to run off after him when he left the path.

It was around a mile and a half walk to the canyon, and we walked the rim a little bit. There are ruins there, but the sun was going down quickly and it was reaching the end of how long I feel comfortable walking Sonnie, given his age, so we headed back. Son was quite tired but did great so I think we can do it again tomorrow or the next day. Maybe we’ll even remember our cameras to take pics of the ruins!

Boy is sitting outside with dad, and seems quite content. Dad was about to come in, but Boy pulled out the ‘big guns’ and gave him a belly to rub. How cute! What a great dog he is! Meanwhile, my old man is passed out for a bit. The exercise has been great for him though!!

We got up fairly early this morning for our driving tour with Adam Teller from Antelope House Tours. He was raved about on Tripadvisor, and while there’s a lot of tour options, I love a good objective recommendation, or many! We booked him a couple of weeks ago, and I’m so glad we did! We planned to meet at the visitor’s center at 8. At ten past, he hadn’t arrived, and the woman working behind the desk asked what guide I was booked with and called him. I got on the phone with him. The Park Service shut down the canyon to private vehicles, so we couldn’t do the tour as scheduled. Touring with Adam driving was a bit more, though interestingly, there was another couple who arrived around when we did hoping to schedule with him upon arrival. We talked with them and agreed to share the tour with Adam driving. It was a tight fit in his jeep, but worked well enough and brought the price to be the same as the tour with us driving!

One we got to the floor of the canyon, we understood the reason for the restriction! Right away we were driving in the river, and the water was lapping up on the windshield! Adam followed two other cars and explained that you never want to be the first car in when the water’s high! The first car, which left at 8 (we didn’t leave until 9) got stuck and had to be pulled out. We followed and he stayed back a little ways to determine where the water is higher and lower. It took quite a bit of skill and experience, and he has 30 years worth!

His family is from the canyon, though his grandparents were the last to live there year-round. He has several aunties (they all seem to call them Aunties, and not aunts) and uncles and cousins who live there part of the year. Apparently there’s a land dispute now between an auntie and an uncle over his grandmother’s property. Adam explained that the land is passed down to the oldest female child. Men can own land, however, it’s a negotiation usually. His uncle is fighting for the land, though he has no right. He explained that part of the issue is that his uncle is Christian and not following the Navajo customary ways. The court awarded the land to his auntie, though the uncle is appealing.

We stopped first at two rock art sites, and saw both petroglyphs (carvings) and pictoglyphs (paintings.) Some of the paintings had color as well. The first was a cave high up on the wall. Adam explained the handprints were from Shaman, and there were also negative handprints (where the color was done on the outside of the print, so the print is darker.) There were symbols warning people away, and telling that it’s a holy place. He said that approximately 40 shaman were buried there, mummified by the weather, and there were close to 100 cremated people in pottery. He explained that generally the Navajo won’t touch the pottery sherds for that reason, because they are considered holy.

Then we stopped at another pictoglyph which depicted fighting. There were several horseback riders, some Navajo and some Spanish. Others showed the river, and times of high water and drought. There was a kokopelli on its side, symbolizing times of drought and hardship.

The water was deeper in parts and more shallow in areas, and it was amazing to see him weave around through. We passed a truck that got stuck and someone was helping him out. We then saw several sets of ruins, six in all. He explained that they were once close to ground level near the base of the canyon, just elevated for the water rising and falling. He showed us a dark ring not far below the ruin, indicating this. When I mentioned to him that we were told at Mesa Verde that people rapelled from the top on long ropes, he laughed and said that’s not true. That the people farmed on the riverbed and near it, but lived just above in the cliff dwellings. The dwellings that we saw ranged from 50 rooms to just over 100, and he said they had between 50 and 200 people in them. He also showed in several where there was a quarry not far above it where they cut the rock for the walls. He pointed out the living quarters vs to the storage rooms, which were usually off to the side.

He also shared with us some of the Navajo stories, beliefs and customs. Canyon de Chelly is considered sacred space to the Navajo. He also talked about the current leadership, and that the Navajo have almost exclusive rights of law in the reservation. They choose to follow some Arizona state laws, though, he made a point of saying that they will not abide by the new immigration law! They also do follow daylight savings, unlike the rest of Arizona. He explained that there is a council of 88 people who lead the reservation. There were issues with corruption though, and he said that over half are corrupt. So, an election was held so they decreased the size of the council to 24. The thinking is that families and politics will play less of a role given the small number.

Adam has three children: one is in a local college going to school for Navajo history and anthropology with an interest in becoming a tour guide. Another is in college in Flagstaff, and the last in high school. The youngest also wants to be a tour guide, a point of pride for Adam. His father joined his operation 10 years ago, and he hopes his children will take over the business someday. Adam has a degree in anthropology though studied with a medicine chief for much of his knowledge of his people. We learned that most kids learn the Navajo language in their home, and learn English in school as a second language. Around 70% of the people follow the traditional Navajo way of life. Each family has prayer services twice a year in their home, so they move around. It’s also a way to preserve oral tradition. Around 20% of the people are Christian.

Adam does own some land in the canyon, and we saw it at the end of the tour. It’s right next to the Antelope House ruin, which was rebuilt on the floor of the canyon. There are quite a few pictoglyphs nearby, including antelope, a circle within a circle, which Adam said is the peace accord from the late 1800. He said it essentially means that the Navajo are at peace with the Christians, and will never fight them again. There were river and snake pictures, and some that actually looked like the Moab Man found up in the Moab area. There was also one that looked like a swastika, though it was a little different. I forget what he said it mean but I believe it was something about change. I saw similar ones in NM as well.

Adam got his land from his aunties. They have around 1000 acres and he got 10, because he and his mother approached them and asked for it. They agreed and he owns it, though it will revert back to them or their eldest daughter when he dies. His oldest daughter will get land passed down from his wife’s family. He lives with his wife’s family, as is the custom. So, you’re not only marrying your wife if you’re a Navajo! He doesn’t live in the canyon as a result, but in Chinle. Chinle is the Navajo word for ‘running water’ (though it was pronounced ‘Chin-luh’).

The tour was three hours to the dot and excellent. I’d highly recommend him! The other couple generously paid for our tour, as they said we were so kind to let them join. I had already paid a deposit, and it was incredibly generous of them! I paid the tip, we took some pictures, and we were on our way.

Boy spotted us driving back to our site and joined me and Sonnie as I took him for a short walk, much to Sonnie’s chagrin. He’s too funny! We made lunch and Boy joined us, very well-mannered when we were eating and much better behaved than Sonnie! Dad’s taking a nap now, and then we’ll head out to do the White House ruin hike soon. It’s a mile and a half and supposed to take over two hours, so I suspect it’s a little steep. It’s supposed to hit 76 but with the breeze I think it’ll be good weather.

We hiked down to the White House ruin and the trail was absolutely beautiful. The water and wind etched beautiful ridges into the rocks, which swirled with a red, rust and brown stream flowing down the mountain. The canyon has a lot of green, from trees and shrubs to grass, and it makes a gorgeous contrast with the reds. A pretty steady decline, but switchbacks so it wasn’t too steep. We passed through a field of wild horses, and saw two foals and their moms. The ruin was absolutely beautiful and you can see the white plaster better when up close.

We then came back to the RV to let Sonnie out, and I decided to do the hike off the property to the ruin. Howard said it was a three mile walk, though it felt a bit longer. I was joined by Boy, which was wonderful. We walked a while to the cliff, then the one mile walk down the cliff edge to the spot with the ruin. I decided this would be where I released my (dog) Harmon’s ashes, so he could fly free in the canyon. Boy sat next to me and as hard as it was, it was really beautiful and peaceful too. I carved a little ‘H’ under a nearby tree. I think he would approve, given how much he really loved our RV trip to Moab three years ago. This trip was really planned around this, so I’m glad I got up the nerve to do it! I know he would be happy with my choice as it's really so beautiful here. And it was nice to not do it alone, so thanks to Boy for accompanying me and for giving me lots of kisses. There was a ruin at the end of the hike, and that's where we sat for a while.

We walked back with Boy pretty close to my heels, washed up and I made dinner. Now Dad and I are both pretty tired! I think I’ll pet my dog for a bit, read and head in a little early. We get up early for a hike in the canyon tomorrow with Adam’s father, Ben.
Looking forward to it!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Canyon de Chelly

We slept in until a quarter to seven then slowly started getting up and ready. I took another nice hot shower, walked the dog twice, spoke with the neighbors (the couple we met the day before from the Netherlands) and made breakfast while Dad hooked the RV to the truck and got it all ready to leave. Sonnie was all excited (I know, not news by now) and we headed off a little after 9.

We drove by the Four Corners Monument again (grumble) and headed through Arizona. Much of the drive was really barren and desolate. We stopped for a break at a gas station and treated us to a piece of Navajo Fry Bread from a little stand with two women working in it. Sonnie, er, relieved himself nearly, so I did feel a little bit obligated!

Once we got towards the Chinle area the landscape changed, and we were surrounded by gorgeous bright red flowing rock all around. We drove through two tiny little towns to Chinle, which is also a tiny little town with not much to see. We stopped at the Canyon de Chelly Visitor’s Center, ran in to get a map, and headed to the canyon. We are staying at the Spider Rock Campground—this one does have potable water and solar showers, and from what I read, a hilarious attendant. I spoke with him and look forward to meeting him. There was no one here when we got here, but a board had our spot marked on it. We were greeted by a sweet and very affectionate dog, and noticed a sign saying that if we feed the reservation dogs, we own them! Um.. guess this guy isn’t eating from my hand! He looks well cared for though, so I wasn’t too upset (yes, I’ve had a tough time with that, especially up in Monument Valley with the three dogs patrolling the visitor’s lot.)

Our spot is a nice little place surrounded by trees, with a little fire pit and a picnic table. Sonnie approved. It’s supposed to be in the high 70s today and while it feels it in the sun, it’s gorgeous in the shade with a nice breeze. We have all the windows open and are quite comfortable. I’m sure we’ll be ok leaving Sonnie in the RV during our tours.

Well, off to explore…

We drove down the south rim of the Canyon. First we went to the Spider Rock Overlook, and Face Rock Overlook. Both were really beautiful though I loved the ‘hoodoos’ of Spider Rock overlook. There’s a large relatively thin rock in the center of the canyon that reaches up, almost to the top of the canyon. The canyon consists of lovely shades of red, rust, brown and tan, and the bottom has a really small river running through. There’s a lot of trees and grass on the bottom as well, so it’s quite beautiful.

We then drove to see the Sliding House Overlook, which is a cliff dwelling towards the bottom of the canyon where much of the rock overhang fell, and looks like it took a bit of the ruin with it. The White House is beautiful, and has a set of ruins on the bottom of the canyon, and one not too far up the rock wall. It’s called the White House because the top level of the top ruin is covered in white plaster. We’re going to hike down to it tomorrow. We stopped at the Junction Overlook, Tunnel Overlook and Tsegi Overlook as well to enjoy the most beautiful views. I think this is even prettier than the Grand Canyon, which I love.
The man who lives here and runs the campground still wasn’t here when we got back, but his nephew was. We stopped to talk with him for a bit. We learned the dog’s name is ‘boy’, and there’s a really beautiful Bengal-looking cat with wild tiger stripes here now. Very talkative and decided to stretch using my leg as a post with full claws out! Ouch! We pet them for a bit and learned that Howard feeds them (the nephew stopped short of saying that they are his, but that he feeds them.) They both look pretty well cared for though.

The winds really picked up and were quite gusty by the time we hit the Tunnel overlook. There’s a short but steep trail down to a little metal ladder, which has a sign that you cannot continue down the stairs without a guide. I stood on the landing and took some pictures of the beautiful view. There are Navajos selling their crafts at every stop. I spoke with a man named Henry at the Spider Rock Overlook. He made the dream catchers, did the carvings in stone, and his auntie and mother did the jewelry. The stone carvings were really beautiful, and he took some time to explain what the symbols meant. They included things like corn, antelope, lightening, many circles within circles symbolizing many generations, the healing hand, the world and the four directions, and a solid circle within a circle symbolizing the ancient people and the Navajo. There were others as well. We liked them so much we made some purchases, and I bought a dreamcatcher as well. I do have one, but this one was really detailed and beautiful. He explained the story that dream catchers are designed to catch bad dreams, but good ones can go through. There were feathers and wood in each of the four directions, and there were tools sewn into it to use to fight the bad dreams away. It was really beautiful.

Some of the other people selling things had beautiful things, including painted stones and painted jars. They were all assertive but not pushy. Going to get dinner started soon. We have an early day tomorrow, with a driving tour of the canyon schedule at 8 with a guide that was highly recommended on tripadvisor. I love that site! We did early tours as we were unsure of the temperatures, and I was concerned leaving Sonnie in the RV if it got too hot. Given the cool mornings and the breeze, I suspect he’ll be fine. Should it get warm, we’ll just take him on our drives.

Howard just came by to collect the money we owe, and to say hello. Boy is at his side, and just rolled on his back for belly rubs. What a sweet dog. Howard is a character, and a nice guy. Gave us some suggestions, and told us about the walking trail on the property. It's a 3 mile round trip walk, going to the cliff and ruins. Can't wait, nor can Sonnie!

Signing off…

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mesa Verde

If you don't have any interest in native american ruins, you may want to skip this one. I spent the entire day exploring Mesa Verde and loved every minute of it!

We got up early to arrive at the park at 8 am when it opened. We made our way to the Far View Visitor's Center, which was a good 17 miles inside the park. They were doing construction so the narrow road went down to one lane twice. It was the perfect drive on a long windy road for a little sports car, though there were really steep drop-offs during a good bit of it. (Thankfully dad was driving!!) The views were gorgeous as we climbed, and then we arrived to the visitor's center. We bought tickets for two cliff dwelling tours, then made our way to the first.

The description for Balcony House 'the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour. This one-hour tour involves climbing 32 foot ladder to enter the dwelling. At the exit you crawl through a 12-foot long by 18-inch wide tunnel, followed by 60 foot climb up the open cliff face using two 10 foot ladders and a series of stone steps." Now, you might think that this could dissuade someone who's horribly afraid of heights. Maybe it was the wine last night, or perhaps it was the determination of being at Mesa Verde and not observing from the sidelines.. I'm not sure. All I can tell you is that I'm glad I didn't think too much when I bought the tickets! The 32 foot ladder was going up, for which I was grateful! I got quite spooked at the top, but managed to cling to it and made my way up without humiliating myself too much. Of course, the panicked breathing at the top kind of gave it away, and the ranger and I had a good laugh.

Speaking of the ranger, Gary was a riot. Very dry sense of humor and clearly loves his job. As he said, he gets paid to play outside! Good gig. We wandered through the ruins and learned about the people who lived there. The Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloan people- the name was changed from Anasazi, which is Navajo for several things including 'enemy.' The 21 descending tribes from these people took offense to that, so they are now referred to as Ancestral Puebloan people. They moved into the area over 1400 years ago, first building on the top of the mesa where the land was lush and fertile for farming, then moving under the cliffs in the 1100-1300s. It's not known exactly why they moved, but not all did, and it's believed it's either because of over-population, or protection. Most of the cliff dwellings, and I believe we saw over 15 of them, were built during around the same time period. I don't remember the details of each of the three cliff dwellings that we toured, but each had between 100 and 150 rooms, and were believed to have housed around 120 to 150 people. Each had several kivas as well, which are believed to have been used as gathering places for social or religious purposes.

The climb out was even more fun than the climb into the dwelling. We had to go up another ladder, but more fun than that (I say fun with a twinge of sarcasm) was the stone steps. These were footholds carved into the rock. Thankfully they did have a thick chain to cling to, er, grab onto, with metal rods drilled into the rock. Of course, grabbing the chain was ok, until someone immediately below you did the same causing it to buckle a bit. [deep breath]. I lived to tell about it, but it was a bit frightening.

The next dwelling we toured was Cliff Palace, which is the largest of the cliff dwellings. In this tour we had to climb five 8- to-10 foot ladders (a piece of cake after Balcony house!) This ruin was simply amazing, and a good bit larger than the last. We also had the opportunity to walk through it, though with Balcony House we did much of the walking behind instead of in front of it. The climb up the rocks worn smooth by thousands of feet was narrow and a bit slippery in parts, but not too bad. Having walked through both of these ruins, it's hard to imagine life during that time. They did find thousand-foot long ropes which they likely used to climb down into the structures, and to climb down to the floor of the canyon to collect food, water, etc. There were burn marks on the ceiling which distinguished living areas from storage areas. Rooms were quite small, and Cliff Palace also had several kivas.

Next we drove the Mesa Top Loop Road where there were several pit houses (surface dwellings) and cliff dwelling overlooks. We got to see some of the older structures, and the early attempts at kivas. As they developed, they used stone columns instead of wood beams to hold the ceiling up, and interestingly had a large hole that served to draw clean air in, along with a deflecting stone at the opening of the hole that dispersed the air in the room. The center of the kiva was a fire, and usually there was a hole in the ceiling so people could enter it from the top. There was a Sun Temple which was a large, many-roomed structure and quite beautiful, with a lovely view of the canyon.

We rushed back, or tried to, since we got stuck for quite a bit at the one lane parts, to let Sonnie out for a walk, grabbed a bite and planned to head back. I made a sandwich, went to the fridge to put everything away, turned around and NO MORE SANDWICH. Seriously? Sad, but true, and I should know better but apparently I don't. He was licking his lips happily, thankful for the snack! Of course, he left the lettuce but ate everything else, and every last bit!!

We headed back and went to the Museum, and then walked down to see the Spruce Tree House. It's the best-preserved cliff dwelling and was really amazing to see. They had a reconstructed kiva that you can tour, and though it was smaller than the other two, it still had 110 rooms and an estimated 110 inhabitants. At the top of the hill, we met a gal that I met and talked with while doing the Cliff House tour! We chatted a bit, and learned they were from the Netherlands and headed to Needles in Canyonlands Park.

We went to one more area, called the Far View Sites Complex, which was made of several developments. They were all fairly close to each other (one was about a 15 minute walk, and the rest were all within 5 minutes of Far View.) There was a tower, which we hadn't seen before, a large, round high structure, and also a reservoir, where they stored water for crops. They were a great example of pit houses, and you could tell that some were older than others. The signs showed that when one was deserted, they used some of the rocks from it to build another.

We headed out, filled up our gas tank and headed back to the RV park. Sonnie was eager to see us (of course!) As we were making dinner, we noticed we have a neighbor--- sure enough, it's the couple from the Netherlands! Too funny, and what a small world.

Long day today and we're tired! Got to take a nice long hot shower (ahhh...) Tomorrow we head down to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. I've wanted to go for several years now, so I'm really excited about it. So is Sonnie (of course, he's excited about absolultely everything!!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Four Corners Adventures- Day 3

We got up while it was still dark and got all packed up, tied down, etc. to make our way out. Thankfully the mud was partially frozen and equally thankfully, Sonnie was patient with his morning ritual. Dad carried him right to the truck, hooked up to the RV, and off we went! We drove up to the visitor's center parking lot and I ran Sonnie around the lot. He was quite excited to sprint as I suspect he felt a bit cooped up yesterday as we all did!

The drive was desolate in parts, but quite beautiful in parts as well. Sloping hills where you can see for miles covered in shrub brush, and jagged mountains and buttes in various shades of red, tan and brown in the distance. We planned to drive just under two hours to make our first stop at the Four Corners National Monument. We pulled up to see a large sign 'CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION.' More four-letter words ensued. Seriously? I checked the official site a few weeks earlier and no mention, but apparently I looked too early. As we stood gaping at the sign, another RV and three cars pulled up, with the very same reaction. Ok, at least it wasn't us. Not that the monument is a big thing to see, but it's not really a place on the way to anything that you'd happen to pass by! Sonnie decided to poop right in front of the gate which I thought was perfect, though, I did the good deed and bagged it. No, I didn't leave the bag there, though I thought it really stated perfectly what I was thinking.

We drove on to Mesa Verde driving through the cute little town of Cortez. The RV park we made a reservation at is 1/2 a mile from the Mesa Verde park. We pulled in and got settled. It's really cute and has some nice amenities. After dry camping for the last two days, I'm looking forward to a nice hot shower with water pressure! Ahh.. the simple things. I walked Sonnie around the back to the pond and he explored to his furry little heart's content. Have I mentioned just how happy he is? Smiling up a storm.

We grabbed a bite to eat then went to the Anasazi Heritage center. I have to say, I was really impressed with what a beautiful little museum of artifacts they have there, all ecavated from sights in the Canyons of the Ancients BLM land nearby. There were cases and cases of pottery, pottery sherds, bones, tools, baskets, etc. as well as a replica of a room where the native americans who inhabited the area might have lived. It exhibits life on the Great Sage Plain. There's also a trail behind the building leading up to the Escalante Pueblo ruin with a beautiful panoramic hilltop view of the surrounding areas overlooking the McPhee Reservoir and looking out on the Mesa Verde range, as well as many other mountains, some snow capped.

We watched the short movies offered, and headed to the Lowry Pueblo, a ruin around 30 minutes drive from the Heritage Center. It was amazing, though the woman at the Heritage Center warned us that they had put a 'roof' on top, which caused and uproar among the locals. Of course it was to preserve the ruin, however, it really looks awful! The pueblo is a 40 room structure (native american condos!) with eight kivas and a reconstructed Great Kiva. It was about the size of Wupatki near Flagstaff, for those who have seen that ruin, however the rock is a tan color and not the same vivid red. It was really a beautiful pueblo and there were diagrams of how it might have looked when it was inhabited. I believe I read it was inhabited for over 150 years.

There's over 6,000 archaeological sites in the Canyons of the Ancients, and three nearby pueblos. Hovenweep National Monument is on the other side of it, though I don't think we'll have time to see it. We headed back to the RV park where Sonnie let us know just how unhappy he was with being left alone. Neglected. I decided to do some laundry, we'll make some dinner, follow up on e-mail (I LOVE having internet when I travel!) and relax a bit.

Tomorrow we're going to explore Mesa Verde National Park, which should take a good bit of the day. I'm looking forward to seeing the ruins, enjoying the warmer weather (it should be in the low 70s and hiking a bit. Oh, and that nice long hot shower!!!


Four Corners Adventures- Days 1 & 2: Monument Valley

It’s been three years since Dad and I went on an RV adventure, so we were long overdue. I packed up the dog and drove up to Kanab UT for the latest adventure. Sonnie, my dog, was quite excited, though I’m not sure he knew why. He did get a car ride, though, which he loves! He was positively drooping by the end of the almost six hour drive, but no worries! He sure perked up when we got there!

I got the RV packed up with my things and the groceries I brought. Went to the store for the last minute critical items (ice cream!) and were early to bed. We got a nice an early start, and off we went! Sonnie was snuggled comfortably in the backseat, enjoying the open windows in the back of my dad’s truck for sight-seeing. We stopped at the Navajo National Monument for a break, walked Sonnie and went into the visitor’s center. We decided to walk one of the trails and got to see some amazing little ruins under a cliff overhang. They are called Batatakin, and are one of the largest cliff dwellings of the ancestral Puebloan people. It was inhabited for only a short time between 1250 and 1300 AD. I believe I read that based on tree rings, they found that there was a 30 year drought that likely drove them out among other possibilities such as social, religious and other pressures. The visitor’s center had some pottery, and a Hogan set up (one inside and one outside) like it would have been years ago.

There is another ruin, the largest cliff dwelling in Tsegi Canyon called Keet Seel. It’s beautiful and rather large. It’s also a 5+ hour hike, so we didn’t go to see it. Batatakin is a smaller version of it, and was quite a treat following a walk of under a mile. Betatakin means ‘ledge house’ and Keet seal is from an altered Navajo word meaning ‘broken pottery scattered around. The village also have Hopi names, Talastima and Kawestima. The people who lived here are called the Hisatsinom by the Hopi, and Ansazi by the Navajo, though modern descendants of these people go by the term “Ancestral Puebloans.” The cultural subgroup of people who live in this vicinity are known as Kayenta, which is also the name of the town close to Monument Valley.

We headed onward to Monument Valley, passing through the small town of Kayenta. Nothing much to say about it! Approaching Monument Valley was beautiful, and somewhat like approaching Sedona AZ in that you get a flash of bright red color here and there, then all of a sudden it opens in front of you with a beautiful landscape with shades of reds, oranges and browns. Bright blue sky, puffy white clouds. As alert as Sonnie was for the whole drive, he really pooped out and I have a great pic of him snoozing just as it was getting beautiful.

We got pseudo-directions at the entrance gate, paid our fee and were on our way. But we had no clue and saw the visitor’s center, so we went in there figuring we could go to the information center. It’s huge and really nice with a glorious view of the buttes and mesas of Monument Valley. We went in to find the visitor’s information center is closed, yes closed, on Saturdays and Sundays. Spectacular! We took in the views then went back to the RV. I couldn’t help but give some treats to the two dogs roaming the lot, then we went to a lot that we suspected was the ‘primitive’ Navajo campground. Yup, two little porta-pots and a couple of picnic benches. But, it has the most glorious views!

We got set, grabbed a quick bite and decided to do the 17 mile loop around the park before it got to late. We were glad we did as it took a couple of hours to navigate the rather pitted roads. Good thing for trucks! The drive was amazing and yes, I took lots of pictures! We stopped a bit to take it all in, then headed back to the RV. The wind is blowing and is quite loud, but at least the rain held off. It was supposed to rain all weekend, and now just tomorrow is scattered thundershowers. I’ll take it!

Only a few RVs are in this park so it’s pretty quiet (well, except for the wind!) There’s a few tents as well, which are obviously quite tough people! Given the weather expected tomorrow, they’re gutsy!

I’m sure it’ll be an early night for all of us. Sonnie’s hurting a bit and is limping on a back leg. I don’t have enough of his arthritis meds for the entire trip, so going to try to find a vet in the next town if we can. He’s a trooper though, and is trying to play fetch in our little RV!

Tomorrow we’ll explore the area a bit more, doing some driving in areas north of the park. There’s supposed to be some smaller parks in the area that are quite beautiful. Overall, it was a nice drive and not all that far.. around 4 hours to get here, even with the stop. The ride was beautiful in parts, too.

I just read that the Navajo reservation is close to 25,000 square miles, and is the largest Native American reservation. Over 200,000 Navajos live here. Amazing considering the landscape: beautiful, but quite desolate. Scattered with small, mostly rickety-looking buildings. A good number of horses, donkeys and cows grazing, and lots of areas set up for Navajo crafts to be sold. Interestingly, alcohol is banned from the reservation, though there is a significant issue with drunk drivers here.


Also known as Snow and Other Four-Letter Words!

This post will be liberally sprinkled with four-letter words! Sonnie woke up around 6 today needing to be one with nature. I got up to let him out with Dad helping him down the stairs. It was pouring, but we expected scattered thundershowers today so that was ok. Sonnie attended to his business, and Dad let us back up. I decided to try to go back to sleep to the sound of pouring rain. I woke again to hearing the sound of quiet and thought “cool! It’s clear out.” Opened the curtain to ‘@#%” Well, not exactly, but another four letter weather word: SNOW.

Um, #$%&. What the hell is a girl now from Phoenix going to do with @$%^. I mean, snow. I didn’t exactly prepare for it either. The weather was supposed to be in the high 50s today with lows in the high 30s, so I brought a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, a sweatshirt and a sweater thinking that I had WAY overpacked with warm clothes. BAH! Hopefully it’ll start clearing as the temps increase today, but we’ve gotten a good 3-4 inches in just a few hours.

Sonnie decided mid-morning he needed another nature break, so out I went after bundling up in as many layers as I could find. Thankfully I brought a water-resistant soft shell! I wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen the snow, and he loved it. He was rescued from the Tucson pound two-and-a-half years ago so he may have seen snow if he lived in the outskirts. He went trotting away snapping at the snow and seeming quite happy with himself. Then he got to write his name in it! The joys of being a boy, I suppose.

He wanted to walk a bit but I didn’t, so back to the RV we went, where I will stay hidden and bundled until we leave this hellhole. Frozen hellhole that is!

Had planned to check out some of the surrounding little parks and areas. Dad just mentioned that he’d like to get information on how bad the snow is around, and said ‘hey, let’s go to the information center.’ HA! It’s closed.

A dozen or so other RVs came in during the evening and they are all still here. I’m just glad we’re not in a tent! There were three or four outside last night!

Sonnie seems to feel better today too and is moving around a bit more than he was. He was limping and his back leg was pretty stiff. I unfortunately didn’t bring enough of his arthritis pain meds, so if we’re able to leave here tomorrow I’ll try to track down a vet in a nearby town to see if we can get some.

So, unsure if we’ll get stuck here, or if we’ll be able to move on tomorrow morning as planned. Good thing I have a few good books! I guess it’ll be an adventure! @#$%&! :o) All part of the fun of travel and hey, beats getting stuck in an airport!!

mid-day update: More snow!!!! 6 inches!! Spoke with a guy in one of the other RVs, took some pics, took a very happy dog for a romp and bio break, then ran back in shivering. Dad dug out the truck. Hoping we can leave tomorrow! The pop-out is covered in snow which may pose an issue. Guess we’ll see, nothing we can do about it!! At least the white out conditions are over, and the slow is slowing up a bit. Hopefully for good. One of the dogs from the visitor’s center appeared in the campground, the black and tan with long fur. Poor thing was soaked and patrolling the place.

At least I can see the beautiful buttes now, covered in snow. Interestingly the weather on the radio is declaring a high of 56 in Kayenta and scattered rain showers. Really? We have seen rain since 6 am! No mention of snow at all in the four corners area. Very strange.

It’s now early evening around 6, and the snow has stopped and it’s warmer out. What’s that mean? MUD. Lots and lots of mud. Should be an interesting time getting the RV out of here tomorrow, but at least we plan to leave early when it’ll be frozen so hopefully it’ll be easier. We settled in during the afternoon to read and both napped a bit so we should be well rested for the trip tomorrow!

The buttes look beautiful now, covered in snow. Another big RV is coming in now, struggling in the mud but making it’s way ok. It’s been a nicely relaxing day, much more so than planned but that’s ok. Part of the adventure of traveling.

Mud, More Mud, and oh @#$% Where’d the Dog Go?

Eventually all good things must end, and Sonnie heard the call of nature. I looked out the window, and the beautiful snow was replaced by a beautiful gelatinous glop of red mud. Well, duty calls. Thankfully I brought my Keen sandals. Oh what a sight in fleece pjs, keens and socks, gloves and a softshell jacket. Oh yeah! Dad lifted him down the stairs and all I heard was ‘splut’ as Sonnie sunk in the mud. We walked a few feet and lower and lower he went. “Um, how about you go potty, big guy, before I lose you in this?” No one loves dragging me across wide open spaces quite like Sonnie, but as the mud raised to his belly, I think he thought better of it and decided to go for it with a gusto. We had towels at the ready when he was up in the RV, and did the best I could rubbing him down to clean him off. I just can’t wait until the next potty break. Maybe he can make it until morning. Maybe?

We went to bed early planning to get up really early with the hope of finding frozen ground.. not only to be able to walk without the risk of sinking in, but to be sure we could get the truck out! We'll see....